We're told that confidence is the key to success. Many of us participate in training on building and demonstrating confidence – presentation skills, influencing skills, women in leadership, etc. Some of you may have been told to ‘be more confident’. There are six problems with over-focusing on confidence.
- Appearing confident does not equal real confidence
People who look like they're confident aren't always actually confident. You may know people who look and speak confidently, but when given corrective feedback they get defensive, aggressive or shut down. Truly confident people are able to take feedback, discern what’s useful, admit that they're working on things and that they make mistakes.
- Real confidence comes in different shapes and sizes
There are stereotypes about what confidence should look like – typically biased towards being extroverted and masculine. Some people who are truly confident may not appear so on the outside. Some people are quietly confident and don’t show it overtly. There may also be gender and cultural differences in how confidence shows up.
- Appearance of confidence is mistaken as competence
Businesses suffer from incompetent hires because they are seduced by the confident exterior and fail to dig deeper to understand their competence.
- We need more humble leaders
We actually don’t need more people, especially in leadership positions, who are over-confident, arrogant, hubristic or narcissistic leaders who don’t listen to others, think they have all the answers, believe they are invincible. I’m sure you can think of the damage some of these leaders do to teams and organisations.
- We end up with inauthenticity
Many people, especially leaders, believe they need to show that they are confident so they may fake it and fail to show their vulnerabilities, be real or admit their mistakes. We miss out on authentic, meaningful conversations and relationships.
- Finally, confidence does not grow by thinking it
We don’t suddenly become confident because someone tells us that we should or that we think we should be more confident. Real confidence only grows through action. And confidence is an outcome, not an input into taking action.
So … if you've been told to be more confident or have been working on your confidence – STOP.
Wishing we were more confident, telling ourselves to be more confident and believe in ourselves, being told to be more confident, reading articles telling us that we need to back ourselves, imagining being confident, pretending to appear confident – none of these really work, not if you want to build real inner confidence.
Instead, be courageous, even if you don’t feel confident.
Here are some ideas on being courageous:
Do something new
When we do something new, we learn to be ok with failing and not be good at it. We get a sense of achievement from improving, even if we’re still not good at it. It is a great practice of being courageous and have self-compassion. In addition, progress is a great booster of confidence. Pursuit of perfection is not.
I started doing adult ballet nearly 4 years ago as a complete beginner. While you won’t be seeing me on stage (not yet, anyway), I now know quite a few of the moves, know their proper French names and can even sort of do a single turn! I love the feeling of progress as well as the strength and gracefulness of ballet.
Do something aligned to your passion, mission, purpose
When we do something that matters to us, we find the courage to do these things in spite of our fears. Over time, we even start enjoying things that we were once afraid to do. Speaking to 100+ people is something I never thought I’d enjoy as I prefer not to be the centre of attention. Now, when I’m sharing something that’s meaningful to me and valuable to others, I forget about myself and enjoy the process.
Imagine you only have this year on earth
Have a go at something you have been afraid of doing so you don’t have regrets on 31 Dec 2021. Start small and scale up. You might be surprised at how comfortable you are with things you were once afraid of doing by the end of the year.
When I started Quietly Powerful, a version of this was a thought process that helped to get me started. I thought, if I only had another 5 years to work, would this be worth my effort and energy? Would I regret it if I didn’t do it? My answers were yes and yes so I got off my backside to get started. Do I feel more confident about what I’m doing? Definitely more than when I started. Do I feel completely confident? No, but it doesn’t matter because I just need to continue to find courage! So… rather than trying to be confident, I suggest you choose how you are going to be courageous this year and check in at the end of the year to see how you’re feeling.
Resources you might find useful:
Who is Megumi Miki?
Megumi is an author, speaker, coach and consultant in leadership, culture, diversity and inclusion, with a background in strategy, economics and finance. She helps organisations to challenge the status quo, exceed their goals and keep learning by unlocking the hidden potential in their culture, leadership and individuals. She is the author of Start inspiring, stop driving: unlock your team's potential to outperform and grow
and Quietly powerful: how your quiet nature is your hidden leadership strength. The Quietly powerful book received the Australian Career Book Award for 2020 from RSA Oceania and Best Leadership Book of 2020 from the Australian Business Book Awards. In the uncertain, changing, global and inter-connected world, Megumi believes that the ‘alpha’ or ‘hero’ leadership style alone is outdated and inadequate. Quietly powerful expands the definition of what good leadership looks, sounds and feels like and empowers quieter professionals and those outside majority groups to fulfil their leadership potential.
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